Voices from a distant past

29th December 2000 at 00:00
AT our primary 7 Christmas party in December 1962, we were allowed to bring in records to play on the Dansette portable. "Telstar" by the Tornadoes, named for a recently launched telecommunications satellite, was the hugely popular number one at the time, and we played it repeatedly for two and a half hours.

Strangely, however, the soundtrack to my memories of my final year at primary is not provided by the songs of the emerging beat music scene, but rather by the kindly and gentle tones of our teacher, Bill McCann. When he read to us from Wind in the Willows each Friday afternoon, he received our undivided attention and brought literature to life for us. Every time I hear mention of Ratty, Mole or Toad, his voice rings clear in my head.

It strikes me, too, that everyone, no matter how long left school, is able to do impressions of their teachers, echoing the foibles and idiosyncracies of their speech. It seems then that, more than what we say, how we say it may remain long in the memories of those we teach. These reflections were induced not just by the sentimental onset of Christmas and middle age, but also by a recent experience at Edinburgh Airport.

I turned round at the departures gate after seeing off a relative, and who should be there but Murray Walker, the otor racing commentator, once famously described by Clive James as "the man with his pants on fire". As is always the case when you spot a television personality, there was a brief moment when I wondered why he hadn't recognised me: after all, his voice had been part of my life for 40-odd years.

Strange that, as a child of the television age, voices should still be as memorable to me as pictures. Walker's description of Stirling Moss's last, near fatal, crash at Goodwood in 1962 is still more vivid than any number of real life experiences witnessed at first hand.

The same could be said of another veteran commentator nearing retirement, the much maligned David Coleman. His almost uncontrolled excitement as Ann Packer won an Olympic gold for Britain resonates through every athletics event I've seen on television since. For my generation these two voices are as iconic as those of Richard Dimbleby and Alvar Liddell to those who lived through the war.

The day after, Murray Walker announced he was retiring at the end of the coming season. It won't be the same without his boyish enthusiasm, and along with millions of others, I'll miss him.

I wish I could have thanked him for his commentaries that night by the departure gate - but I couldn't find the words.


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